Review Summary: A baptism of filth
I have always viewed great music as anything that could tell me a story. Not in a narrative sense, but more in the artist’s ability to conjure up a vivid sense of atmosphere. Whether that be cruising down a sun-drenched beach road in a Caddy to some appropriately upbeat southern hip-hop, or the cool, draughty feel of brick-work basement club whenever I hear certain Stan Getz cuts, I’ve always felt that good music should instil vibes in the listener appropriate to the musical experience. It’s the psychological version of the serendipity when an appropriate song happens to come on at the perfect moment in daily life. It is because of this that Caustic
is a troubling beast to me. But more on that later; For now, let it be said that Caustic
is an ungodly mesh of sludge riffs played with the distortion levels so comically high my headphones vibrated off my scalp multiple times. Exquisitely demonic vocals, rattling percussion and a general sense of impending doom make up the release’s overall sound; and it is one of tremendous morbid beauty. The skill of Primitive Man lies in their ability to merge all of the directions the album is trying to go in a cohesive manner, rather than precariously balance them all. Although this may sound somewhat complimentary- which it is- the result is not one of harmony and beauty. This is gothic, doomy, sphincter-clenchingly heavy metal told on an admirably epic scale. Texturised noise, if you will.
The expansiveness of the project is intimidating; a lumbering Gollum comprising twelve lengthy ventures into brutality. Immediately the musical niche nestled squarely between doom metal, blackened sludge and hardcore is occupied and, much like Primitive Man’s earlier releases, its seamless blend of these influences is something to behold.Straight away, the opening strains of ‘My Will’ are aggressively dominant; a rhythmic, dirty chugging set against a tapestry of distortion washes. This sludgy style is the most predominant one found on Caustic
, and the band have done well in finding ways to keep the objectively one-dimensional sound varied enough to sustain the runtime. Occasionally, the sound is expanded to incorporate the numerous styles in contained movements, from an ethereal tantrum of post-metal inspired trilling (‘Commerce’), to a disgustingly filthy groove metal hybrid stripped of all but the barebones of its melody (‘Victim’, ‘Sterility’). These are all intelligently unintelligent tracks, littered with variants on established motifs from within the music scene, and not just this one style. Heavily stripped-down and crunchy solos can be found on multiple occasions, as can guitar pitch bending and even a couple of epic, slow-build breakdowns throughout. These crushing crescendos are established well and escalated to rich, hideously dense proportions- yet all are engineered to precision, as the moment of impact is never late nor early. The creative use of distortion is employed frequently to blend transitions within the tracks, as well as to serve as the backbone for the wall of sound, and fill in the instrumentation's many halts. Yet, despite what is essentially the consistent noise of thrumming static, the continuous and deeply embedded oppressive toneis consistently served by it. Every washed-out instrumental is pertinent to the theming and overall effectiveness of Caustic
, ultimately rendering an album that does not do things by half measures.
On the other side of the dirty penny is the vocal and lyrical content, which, despite being very important to the album’s sound, is not without its flaws. In terms of tone and sound, the vocals are perfect. With enough gravel in his vocal tone to fill a pint glass, frontman of the three-piece Ethan McCarthy's thunderous lows and shrieking mid-range is the absolute when paired with the band’s sound. The light instrumental weaving on ‘Victim’ is a great example of this, as are the bile-spewing lows found on what is most probably the album’s finest moment, ‘Disfigured’. These are intelligent musical choices, stripped down and defiled to such a level they no longer identify as intelligent. They complement each other so well, that the vocal eventually start to blend into the grotesque tapestry along with the instrumentation, creating a singular entity. In terms of the lyrical content, however, the effect is somewhat more hit and miss. The lyrics are blunt and to the point, with multiple relatively impressive examples of metaphor and other cleverly implemented devices; ‘Sugar Hole’ is probably the gold standard in this regard, with a wickedly unpleasant personification casting physical deformity to existential trauma (‘My will is falling off/ I gnashed my teeth into dust’ is a particularly evocative example of this). However, in the broader strokes of an album of this length, and one as drenched in pathos, might have benefited from a little more nuance. Many a time throughout the release, the imagery isn’t overly thoughtful and comes across as a little trite. It is still brutal and hardhitting nonetheless, but never manages to quite strike that ‘food for thought’ chord it was so clearly aiming at.
Circling back to my initial point, the experience of Caustic
is one I find very hard to equate with anything. It is a vicious, haunting and downright crushing experience straight out of the gate, and it doesn’t cease the assault until the listener is black and blue. There are moments of teeth-chattering, viscous brutality, fleeting glimpses of groovy abandon, occasions of almost blasphemous reverence, all of which are swathed in filth and slathered with dirt. With such a spectrum of epic transitions on display, the overall experience is so relentlessly nihilistic and unsettling, it could be considered almost traumatic. The release's standout, ‘Disfigured’, is so mired in bitterness that it is an experience cut from the album all its own. The undoubtedly cumbersome weight of the various elements could have resulted in an atonal mess, which it eventually did, but it is a credit to the band's ability on their sophomore LP, as well as the producers that such a sound has been so well-defined and thought out that it actually works to an incredible degree. This is a sound that helps them transcend a number of their contemporaries and sets them upon really intriguing ground, with a lot of groundwork already lain (both here and on earlier releases) upon which hopefully the band can base their future endeavors. Equal parts Electric Wizard and Gaza, it is perhaps best likened to the experience of hanging by your thumbs in the dungeon of some gothic house whilst you wait for your death sentence to be carried out.
I’m still a bit unsure, but it's definitely along those lines.